Scouting report: Vikings can use tight ends to exploit depleted Chiefs
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The Minnesota Vikings are making history. Already the only team in league history to throw away double-digit leads in both of its opening two games before losing, the Vikings completed a hat trick against Detroit, blowing a 20-0 advantage and slipping to 0-3 for the season. Up next is winless Kansas City, one of the only teams in the league with reasons to be more depressed. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Chiefs:
The Chiefs are adjusting their offense on the fly this season after several major components have gone down with season-ending injuries. They remain one of the only teams that run the ball more than they throw it, opening up holes with their man-blocking scheme up front. They like to use the run to set up the pass, running plenty of play-action and roll-out passes when they do throw the ball. Their offense relies upon generating yards on the ground, as that allows them to do everything else that they want to do. If they're forced into ugly passing situations and into the shotgun formation, things start to unravel. They do have elements of basic pro-style and spread offense in the playbook as well, but this is not what they do best, especially with the personnel they're now left with.
On defense, the Chiefs are a 3-4 team, struggling to patch holes in the secondary. They run a pretty conventional defensive front, with standard alignment and gap responsibility. With injuries in the defensive backfield, they're left with only one legitimate deep safety, so play a lot of eight men in the box and single-high safety concepts. They play a lot of man coverage on the outside, but that was before losing CB Brandon Flowers (5-foot-9, 187 pounds) to a high ankle sprain last week, leaving them scrambling for Plan B.
With players dropping by the wayside on a weekly basis, WR Dwayne Bowe (6-2, 221) remains the Chiefs' most legitimate threat. Bowe is a physical challenge for anybody and has the talent to make plays against any team in the NFL. But he remains inconsistent and prone to dropping the ball and can be rattled if teams get to him early. If the Vikings can stop the Chiefs running the ball at will and contain Bowe, then they're in good shape. Bowe's 15 touchdowns last season show the kind of playmaker that he can be, but he also dropped eight passes and caught only 57.6% of the balls that were thrown his way. He remains a danger that needs to be accounted for, but not a weapon like Lions WR Calvin Johnson.
The Chiefs are something of a one-man band on their defensive front. Last season, OLB Tamba Hali (6-3, 275) accounted for more than one-third of the Chiefs total pressure on defense, and though he has started more slowly this season, is still by far and away their most notable weapon on that side of the ball. Hali will likely give Vikings LT Charlie Johnson major issues on the left side of the line, and coaches might be well advised to assign some help there. Outside of Hai, the Chiefs are much less formidable, and this is one of the few instances these days in which you can afford to focus on one player to the detriment of other areas without fear of being exploited there.
With SS Eric Berry (6-0, 211) lost to a season-ending ACL injury, the Chiefs are starting SS Jon McGraw (6'3, 208). To be fair to McGraw, he is not a bad run defender, but he can't cover the way Berry can, and it puts the Kansas City secondary under major pressure to keep things watertight at the back -- even before Flowers got hurt. The Vikings should be able to target McGraw with tight ends in man coverage and then exploit the gaps at the back between the corners and safeties.
Strengths and weaknesses
Health is dictating everything here. It isn't so much the volume of injuries they have suffered as the surgical precision with which their top players are being dropped.
HB Jamaal Charles (5-11, 199) was one of the most dynamic and explosive backs in football. Now, they're left with a platoon of HB Thomas Jones (5-10, 212), HB Dexter McCluster (5-8, 170), HB Jackie Battle (6-2, 238) and FB Le'Ron McClain (6-0, 260). Needless to say, that is a downgrade and the Vikings should feel pretty good about their ability to contain the group, though McCluster remains a shifty runner.
The secondary is fast looking like a major issue. It was patchwork with the loss of Berry already, but losing Flowers, the Chiefs' top cornerback, gives them a world of problems and some major adjusting to do during the week. They like to match up players in man coverage but may no longer have the personnel to do so. Their lack of a second cover safety forces their hand with coverage at times, but they might be wise to go more conservative to try and cover for other losses, seeking to bend rather than break for a while.
Their defensive line has been bolstered in free agency with the addition of NT Kelly Gregg (6-0, 320), but it's beginning to look like it was one season too late, as Gregg has yet to display the kind of anchor he did in Baltimore and has been ineffective against the run so far this season. DE Glenn Dorsey (6-1, 297) remains a miscast underachiever in the 3-4. Only DE Wallace Gilberry (6-2, 268) has shown anything up front, and all he does is rush the passer.
As bad as things have started for the Vikings, at least they have their health. At this point, the Chiefs would kill for that and are just trying to patch holes as they appear. There really is nothing stopping the Vikings getting their first win of the season except themselves in this game.